MY FIRST CAVE DIVE by Jim Cunningham
If you walked into the H.W. Hostel at present you would be excused if you thought it was a Diving Club. Bottles, demand valves, flippers masks, snorkels, weight belts, wet suits and even a compressor, are scattered all around. However, this isn't surprising when you consider that eight members of the Club are also Cave Diving Group members, and another five have cave diving experience.
I am one of the five; I have been through Langstroth sumps (one and two!) I did not want to, but our C.D.G. members are very vain, and decided that they wanted photographs of themselves at the other side. I was the only available fool with a caving camera and diving experience. Of course they couldn't tell me, or I wouldn't have gone, so they carefully made arrangements to dive Dale Barn, suggesting that I take photographs in the new passages before the sump. This was, of course, to make me bring my camera, and also explain the presence of their diving gear.
On Saturday night they loaded all their diving equipment into Bolton Speleo Club's Land Rover, arranging to meet at Ingleton at 12.OO.a.m. On the Sunday (I think- anyway they came at that time!) but told me to meet at 9.3O.a.m. Sure enough I was there with the rest of the lads at 9.15.a.m., and everybody moaned about the Bolton lads letting us down. At l2.00.a.m. sharp they arrived, but everyone had decided that it was too late to do Dale Barn, though we still had time to take photographs in Langstroth. Before I had time to think of an excuse I was bundled into a car and driven off to Langstrothdale.
It was a beautiful May Day, and the drive over was marvellous. Tourists’cars were everywhere, and Len Platt was disappointed at not hitting any with his Land Rover - he has only wrecked two this year and was hoping for more. However, we arrived safely and donned our wet suits. Several of us had a quick snorkel in the river, admiring the large trout, while the diving gear was sorted out, and then we ascended the hill to the cave entrance. Several tourists followed us in evident wonderment. Everybody went down the tight entrance except John Ogden, Tony (Silent Sam) and me. We then found that none of our lights was working.
However, there being tourists around, I bravely said that I would go down to see how dark it was, and with a last look at daylight, disappeared. After about ten feet I found it very dark, but luckily at that moment my lamp came on. I shouted to the others to follow, and down thundered Silent Sam followed by John Ogden who had got his lamp working by this time.
The cave is a very nice stream passage, just high enough to walk comfortably and with some very pretty formations.
Carrying diving and camera equipment was no bother, and after ten minutes walk upstream we reached the sump. Jack Pickup and Mick Melvin were already kitted up, and soon went through the sumps, which are forty foot and ten feet with a twenty foot airspace between. J. Ogden then went through taking my camera, and he returned with a spare kit. I was suddenly surrounded by people strapping diving equipment onto me. A bulky bottle appeared under my arm and a weight belt was strapped around my waist. I pulled on my hood and mask and a demand valve was hooked round my neck. I tried to stand up to move towards the sump, but was weighed down and had to proceed in an undignified crawl. My hood covered my ears making it difficult to hear and my mask restricted my vision. I felt like a fish out of water.
Instructions were shouted to me: hold the line in your left hand and keep to the right wall. Move slowly and whatever happens don’t panic, man is his own greatest enemy underwater. Try to keep a hand on the pillar valve to protect the vital air clamp. Check valve, words of encouragement, dive. Immediately everything is quiet except for the sound of breathing. The mud has been disturbed by the first divers, and visibility is only about a foot. I can just see my orange gloved hand holding the courlene line and occasionally a flake of rock comes into view. I move slowly holding the air clamp and pushing off the roof with my feet. Suddenly it becomes too tight to get through. Stop and think, I have not felt the right wall since starting. I reach out but cannot touch it. I move back and to the right until I can touch the wall. It is easy now. I move slowly forward again holding the air clamp, but touching the wall every few feet. Soon I emerge at the other side. A quick tramp through the airspace and a further ten foot dive brings me to the other side. It is easy, as long as the equipment keeps working, you don’t get lost, trapped, or run out of air – or panic.
The passage at the other side is short but beautifully decorated with flowstone and curtains of many different colours. At the end is a large chamber with a stream coming in from a passage about fifty feet up the wall. Several attempts have been made to reach this passage without success. We had planned to rawlbolt a piece of angle iron to the wall to use a scaling pole in two stages, but a convenient ledge was found so we didn’t bother. I reverted to photographer at the other side of the sump, and happily took about ten photographs, both colour and black and white. The sump held no horror on the return and we soon got back into the sunlight.
Incidentally, although this article is light-heartedly written, it must be obvious that cave diving isn’t. All the members of our club who have dived have done British Sub-Aqua Club training up to third class standard, which must be regarded as the absolute minimum training, even for passing an easy sump like langstroth.